As a librarian of a Chinese collection you have to take care
of the acquisitions, but what methods will you use in selecting the titles
you want to include in the
collection? There is none that tells you how to do it, but gradually
you develop a system that suits you and gives results. Even though each
sinological librarian is an
individual, the system he/she follows in selecting books is not that
different from the methods used by other sinological librarians in the
various countries. This is
hardly a surprise, because the range of viable methods is rather limited.
I will here present some ideas that have occurred to me when I have analysed
methods of selection.
When you want to purchase a Chinese book on a certain subject, you have
several possibilities to locate a suitable title. The classical method
is to go through a pile
of Chinese book catalogues and try to find a title that covers the
required subject. You may also try other methods, which can–if you are
lucky–save you from the
tedious work of browsing one catalogue after another. One way is to
ignore the catalogues and instead directly contact a book dealer and inquire
what they can
provide on the particular subject. This method, although quick, has
the drawback that you have to be satisfied with the choice of your dealer.
Usually this means that
he will send you what he happens to have on his shelves.
You can also wait to find a review that will give you the desired title,
but this is a very slow and unsure method. Finding a review in a Western
journal is more or less
hopeless, because the Western reviewers tend to ignore books written
in Chinese. You have better chances to find reviews in Chinese journals,
but these often
appear long after the book has been published. By that time the book
is usually already sold out or the book dealers are not able to locate
A further possibility to find a desired title is to ask your colleagues
(your guanxi connections) or researchers at universities. This method is
also rather slow and in
most cases it fails to give results. After trying these alternative
strategies in vain, you are once again faced with the fact that the classical
method of going through the
book catalogues piled on your desk promises the best results.
Chinese book catalogues come in two forms: a) the simple one containing
title, author/editor, publisher, year of publication, information on collation
and price - it is
rather a list than a catalogue, and b) the informative one with an
additional information on the contents.
There are basically two ways to 'read' a book list or a catalogue: you
can either quickly scan it or actually read each entry. The scanning is
practical, because many
of the catalogues contain same titles and a quick scan is often sufficient
to ascertain whether the catalogue in hand contains a title you have not
Also if you are looking for something specific, scanning allows you
easily to spot the titles that containing the relevant Chinese characters.
It is a much more time
consuming to actually read the catalogues, and when this is necessary
you tend to select the catalogues that are are from reliable book dealers,
with whom you have
a good business relationship. This is a sound practice that will prevent
you from wasting your time.
When reading the book catalogues, you look for specific information
that will enable you to select the book you want to order. A well known
author often sells
him/herself, especially, if the listed book is a new one and not just
a reprint or a slightly revised edition. A title can also sell itself,
when it indicates a subject which is
of interest for the library. To the category of safe choices belong
the modern commentaries on classical works, because they are often of a
good quality even if the
names of the commentators are unfamiliar. In cases where the title
of the book is interesting but the author unfamiliar, it is possible to
estimate the book’s merits by
noting the name of the publisher. An experienced librarian knows the
publishing houses that try to keep a high standard. And of course you will
also check the
collation, which will tell you whether the book is a large monograph,
propaganda pamphlet, teaching book or merely a picture book.
If you receive catalogues that give some information on the content
of the listed books, your task of finding a relevant book is made a lot
easier. Sometimes the
information given is rather meagre, merely stating the obvious, e.g.
the entry may only state that the book contains collected works of an author
of fiction include
his/her works, essays, poems, prefaces etc., that is everything that
proper volumes of collected works should include. What the entry does not
state is the subject
matter of these writings.
Both in selecting titles of fiction and non-fiction, your choice is
made easier if you know the author. Of course, you may let yourself be
tempted by a title and select a
book by an unfamiliar author, but when doing this you must take the
risk that you have spent part of your always too small budget in a totally
uninteresting book. Even the most informative book catalogues fail
you, if you want to find information on the author, e.g. an entry on Ma
collected works only refers to the content but, apart from the years
of birth and death, does not give any further information on the author.
To ascertain an author’s
specialization and merits, you have to turn to other sources. However,
the informative catalogue are more useful and therefore preferable to mere
book lists. Even
the short information entries are helpful, especially, when you have
to select one title out of several about the same subject.
When browsing a book list or catalogue, you are constantly looking for
titles that will suit the profile of your library. What will trigger your
interest? Naturally, your
library–like any other library–has an accession policy and you will
try to follow it, but at the same time you bear in mind the limits of your
budget. You know that you
will never be able to purchase all the interesting books offered for
sale. In addition, you have undoubtedly developed your individual priorities,
but being a good
librarian you will remember never to follow them indiscreetly and loose
sight of the overall accession policy. Some individual priorities may have
have historical roots:
the library may have a particular collection the librarian contributes
to, or the state may have a special relationship to a field or area–a former
activities etc. -and the librarian sees the need to cover it. All these
factors–accession policy, budget, various priorites–are simultaneously
in your mind and when you
spot a title that fulfills most of them, your interest is roused.
When you come across a book on a subject that falls within the acquisition
policy of the library, you will try to find out whether the title covers
an area not well
represented by the existing collection or whether it is a new interpretation/commentary
on a well known subject. If the title looks very familiar, it is best to
library catalogue to avoid buying the same book twice. If you do not
recognize the author, the most expedient way to find out about him/her
is to ask your colleagues
what they know. Save your bulky reference works for those instances,
when your inquiries fail to give results. It may happen that even your
reference works will not
give you the necessary information and that case you have to estimate
on the basis of the title only, whether the book would be an asset to the
collection or not. It
may well be that the book by the–until now–unknown author opens up
a new aspect of research or reopens a research area that has been neglected
for some time.
After you have made up you mind that a certain book fulfills your requirements,
you have to make the final purchase decision. You can make it independently,
you may also consult other experts, colleagues in the library system,
university researchers and other active readers of Chinese books. Even
if you often want to
consult others, it is best to keep the contacts informal, because formal
arrangements get bureaucratic and that slows the process making it unpractical.
books, you have to act promply, because the sooner you order a book
listed in a new catalogue, the higher are your chances of actually getting
the book. Even
today, some books are difficult to acquire only half a year after they
had been made available for the market.
Usually, you as the librarian take the initiative to acquire new books
to the collection without any prompting by outsiders, but sometimes it
happens that a reader
approaches you and proposes that you purchase certain titles. These
requests are easy to handle: either the books suit the acquisition policy
or they do not. If the
suggested title is within the scope of the collection, you have to
evaluate the of the book - is it a popular book, a serious study in a subject
or a document/collection
of documents? Will it be of interest for a wider group of readers than
just the one who suggested it. Finally you have to consider whether the
budget allows the
purchase. If the suggested title falls outside the present acquisition
policy– e.g. a book on foreign relations between Taiwan and Australia or
a book on economic
theory with only a few references to China– you may still buy it, if
you think that the book will be valuable for readers in the future.
One problem connected with the readers’ requests is that the titles
do not always come from book catalogues, but are instead taken from footnotes.
This means that
several years have usually lapsed from their publication and that makes
them difficult to obtain.Until seven years ago it was an arduous task to
locate older books, if
they did not happen to be listed in a recent book catalogue and even
if you succeeded in locating an old book, the purchase price tended to
be very quite high.
Today, probably owing to the liberation of the market in China, it
is somewhat easier to get books that have been published during the past
five or six years. But still
today the purchasing of an older book is unproblematic only if the
required title is a standard work. For example, the modern standard edition
on The Song history
(Songshi) published by China Book (Zhonghua shuju) is available in
practically all shops stocking historical material in Hong Kong.
A special way to get Chinese books is to engage in exchange between
institutions. You may either formalize the exchange contacts by signing
an agreement or just
send something in return after receiving material from another institute.
A formal exchange agreement usually means that you have to select titles
from a forwarded
list. The exchange based acquisition can be problematic: the first
problem is to find in your own collection works that are suited for exchange.
The second problem
you encounter when you receive the books sent in exchange: they may
not be the ones you so picked out from the exchange list. The sending institution
only a limited number of copies of the listed items, but it usually
has several exchange partners and if the titles you requested, were also
sought after by the others, the
institution may have run out of copies by the time your request arrived.
Sometimes you even receive unrequested material that is sent to you
either as an advertisement or as a gift. Depending on the quality of the
books, you may want to
include them in the collection or discard them. You can decide freely,
because advertisments and donations do not create liabilites.
The acquisition policy of The Royal Library of Denmark has traditionally
stressed the humanities but in recent years social sciences, economy, law
have been included. Regrading the Chinese collection, the purchases
now cover a wider area than earlier but because the budget has only been
increased by roughly
10%, there are severe limits as to how many titles we can buy on each.
Although the collection has become wider in scope, it lacks in depth in
As the responsible librarian, I have devoloped my own guide linies for
purchasing. I still consider the traditional areas important and continue
to purchase studies and
commentaries on Chinese classics and classical literature, works on
Chinese philosophy and religion, history and archaeology, linguistics and
culture. Of the 'new' areas I select titles that cover general studies
in social sciences, economy, modern law including legal commentaries, modern
studies on cinema and television, and general statistics, also statistics
on literature, book printing, education and philosophy. On Chinese psychology
very little is
bought, the more insteresting titles being monographs on philosophy
and religion including psychological aspects.
I also acquire books on more specialized subjects, if I know that there
is an existing demand for them or if I recognize a potential demand among
the readers. I am
able to estimate this, because I got to know many of the readers and
become acquainted with their research interests. However, I am not willing
to use my limited
resources on titles with very narrow specialization. Lately, there
has been a growing demand on material and studies on folk religion and
I have responded to this by
buying among other things, collections of new year prints, the nianhua.
Also art, both old and modern, is in demand, but I have only been able
to afford very few
actual artbooks. Instead, I have tired to meet the need by purchasing
relevant catalogues and studies.
My contacts with the students and researchers enable me to see the trends
in research and sometimes I can predict that a certain area will become
a focus of
research in the near future. For example, a couple of years ago I started
to buy modern Chinese literature and studies dealing with it, and today
the interest for this
subject is increasing among the advanced students of Chinese in the
University of Copenhagen.
Finally, some of my latest aquisitions will serve as examples of my
decision making process. I will shortly comment each item in oder to point
out the reasons why I
ended up in choosing that particular book.
Selected from book lists:
1) Ping’ao de yishu - chuangzuo wenda lihua by Jia Ping’ao published
by Shanghai renmin 1998 offered to the price of 49.00 HKD. 240 p.
Valuation: Jia Ping’ao is a very popular author and the library has
both writings by the author and writings about him.The title of the book
indicates that it presents the
>author’s view on writing and it may even describe his own writing process.
Books on writing are always in demand and in this book the readers can
personal information given by Jia Ping’ao himself. The publishing house
is a good one and the price reasonable. This book will be purchased.
2) Daojiao wenhua xindian ed. by Qing Xitai published by Shanghai wenyi,
1998 for a price of 90.00 HKD. 750 p.
Taoist texts and studies are wery well represented in the collection
of the library. Qing Xitai is a well known and highly esteemed scholar
in Taoist studies. The
collection already includes some of Qing Xitai’s works, e.g. the four
volumed history on Taoism edited by him. Because both the editor and the
publisher are known
as reliable, the book is well worth acquiring. This book will be purchased.
3) Zhongguoren de maobing by Zhang Pingzhi published by Zhongguo shehui,
1998 for a price of 48.50 HKD. 390 p.
A book on the shortcomings of the Chinese (presumably in social respect
) sounds interesting, especially because the author–although unknown to
me–is himself a
Chinese. The publishing house was established in 1989 and has published
some good books. The price is low and I take the chance and purchase it.
(Now that the
book has arrived it can be noted that the book is divided into subjects
reflecting human relations and conditions. There are chapters on personality,
behaviour of scholars, problems in food and agriculture, manners of
speech and gerneral behaviour, marriage and other family issues. It seems
to be an
4) Zhonghua renmin gongheguo xin xingfa shiyi yu panli fenxi quanshu
ed. by Li Kangtai published by Guoji wenhua, 1998 for the prize of 232.00
HKD. 510 p.
A handbook on criminal law is usually of interest, but in this case
the library has already presentations of the new criminal law and also
some studies in the effects of
these laws in the ‘new’ China. Considering the relative high price
and the fact that titles on similar subjects are already in the collection,
this book will not be
5) 1998 jingji zhanwang ed. by Guojia xinxi zhongxin published by Zhongguo
jihua, 1998 for the price of 403.50 HKD. 3 vols.
I am usually not willing to purchase books that try to predict the future,
because they consist largely of conjectures and wishful thinking. The future,
economy, is unpredictable: just think about the sudden emergence of
the recent economic crises in Asia. Studies on the already visible effects
of the economic
decisions and development processes are preferable. This book will
not be purchased.
6) The library’s collection includes very few of studies on Chinese
essays, so two new titles on the subject will be acquired - namely: Zhongguo
jindai sanwenshi by
Xie Piaoyun published by Zhongguo wenlian, 1997 (387 p.) for 45.50
HKD and Zhongguo sanwen da cidian ed. by Lin Fei publishted by Zhongzhou
(860 p.) for 126.00 HKD.
7) Xinjiang gonglu yunshushi published by Renmin jiaotong, 1998 for
the price of 86.00 HKD. 360 p. In the last ten years the Renmin jiaotong
has published studies
on both the nationwide and provincial transport systems in China. The
Library collects these monographs and this one on Xinjiang province is
Selected from book catalogues:
1) Shanxi tongshi ed. by QiaoZhiqiang published by Zhonghua shuju, 1997
for the domestic prize of 130.00 renminbi (export price will approximately
HKD). The description of the book informs that it is an all around
history of the province from early times to the 1911 revolution and that
it discusses politics,
economy, military affairs, culture and include some biographies of
local notables. Exactly what you expect of a tongshi (a comprehensive history).
Local history is
relevant for our readers and the book will be purchased.
2) 1995 nian quanguo 1% renkou chouyang diaocha ziliao published by
Zhongguo tongji. The presentation of the first volume included a general
description of the
>material. Each volume will concentrate on one province or a major city.
The Danish social scientists are generally interested of the population
in China. This
publication contains data that can be used also by people with only
a rudimentary knowledge of the Chinese language. Although the price of
each volume is relatively
high, around 250.00 to 300.00 HKD, the volumes will be acquired, because
of the high interest among the readers.
3) Bei Song huangling ed. by Henan sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiusuo published
by Zhongzhou guji, 1997 (589 p.) for ca. 250.00 HKD. It is mentioned in
presentation that between 1992 and 1995 the Henan Provincial Institute
of Cultural Relics and Archaeology made an overall survey and some test
eight Sung masoleums and twentytwo tombs of empresses. In addition
to the report on the survey and excavations, the book also describes the
spirit roads with its
guardian figures. There is a constant demand on archaeological reports
from Chinese and this particular book will give more details on the culture
of the Sung emperors.
>The book will be acquired. (It has proved to be a well produced book
with excellent line drawings and photos of good quality. The text is in
best tradition of archaeological reports: it presents the material
and downplays the interpretations).